"Someone like you must create. If you don't, you become a menace to society." — Peter Jellenik (Laurence Fishburne).
Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is a former architect regarded as a genius 20 years ago. Now she's an agoraphobic, stay-at-home mom to Bee (Emma Nelson), wife to Microsoft zillionaire Elgie (Billy Crudup), and neighborhood terror to other moms like Audrey (Kristen Wiig). She only willingly talks to her Indian virtual assistant Manjula, whom she never has to see. When people become convinced that Bernadette needs to be institutionalized for her own safety and that of others, she vanishes.
Director Richard Linklater's adaptation of novelist Maria Semple's bestseller, Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a character drama, yet he is as much a star as Blanchett. While Linklater's most critically acclaimed film is Boyhood, he remains best known for 1993's Dazed and Confused and 2003's School of Rock.
Blanchett plays Bernadette as a whirlwind force of nature. As husband Elgie tries to keep up with her unpredictable zaniness, I had visions of Desi Arnaz doing the same with Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy. Coincidentally, Blanchett's next role is slated to be Lucille Ball in Lucy and Desi.
There's a variety of reasons why Bernadette may be erratic, even crazy: her creative withdrawal, the pain of her miscarriages, raising a daughter with a life-threatening condition, a legitimate mental illness of her own which may require medication, and/or her boredom at living in Seattle, which some characters regard as worse than hell. Never been there — don't know.
There are supporting characters that are highly enjoyable, topped by Nelson as Bee, her mom's fierce defender. It's the kind of performance that makes everybody wish they had a smart, courageous daughter like Bee. (Fortunately, I do.) Wiig, underrated as an actress because she started in comedy, is strong as the exasperated Audrey. In fact, my favorite scene is between Bernadette, Audrey and Bee. It's the heart of the film.
Curiously, I found myself at odds with Elgie — through no fault of Crudup, but of his role, sympathizing with Bernadette's persecutors, one of whom is a psychiatrist played by Judy Greer. She's an actress I like, but I have difficulty accepting that any doctor would or could order the committal of a patient she's never treated or diagnosed.
I also have reservations about a revelation concerning Manjula, Bernadette's unseen assistant, not that it couldn't happen, but it's an unnecessary distraction. However, I do like Linklater's technique of flashing back to an in-film documentary about Bernadette, contrasting the promise and celebrity of her early career with the banality of ending up a suburban housewife. While I enjoy the technique and judicious editing, I wonder if Bernadette's plight is enough to drive somebody crazy?
Bernadette and Elgie are fabulously wealthy, leaving her with no need to work, able to easily afford millions in obstetrical and general surgery (and probably legal bills) and $10,000 tickets for a vacation to an exotic locale. Difficult for me to sympathize.
You know what really gets me to thinking? Every time I write the title, I desperately want to include a question mark at the end. There's officially not one. I guess it's a film's job to make me wonder about stuff.